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Mr. Speaker please swear-in Dorothy Mato first

My plan was to rest my column during the annual vacation of the National Assembly, most especially as I also got permission from the management of Sun Newspapers to commence leave. But I was advised to the contrary by my editor, Mr. Femi Babafemi to keep the column running. He suggested that I could among, other interventions, set the agenda for the House of Representatives, towards its third year. Sure, there is a whole lot to contemplate as the 8th House enters the second half of its tenure.

From the 2018 Appropriation Bill which the Executive has said it will submit to the National Assembly in October, to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s request for the approval of a virement of  N135, 643,018,749 to enable the Federal Government fund key projects in the 2017 budget, the anti-corruption bills pending in the House and even the return of former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin from suspension. Jibrin was suspended in September 2016. Definitely, there are a number of pending issues that are intricately linked to national development and economic growth, which members should immediately address, on resumption.

But I humbly suggest the House takes a simple but highly symbolic first step, that might even go unnoticed by the public, with Speaker Yakubu Dogara swearing-in Dorathy Mato, who was declared the rightful representative of the Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency of Benue State  by the Supreme Court. Mato, was declared the authentic representative of the constituency after the Supreme Court nullified the candidature of erstwhile chairman of the House committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Hon. Herman Hembe. The former chairman was asked to vacate his seat and return all monies collected as salaries and allowances since June 2015. Undoubtedly, the poorly explained delay in swearing-in Mrs. Mato has opened the House to disparagement. When those who accompanied the female politician,  protested within the White House complex at the National Assembly on Thursday July 6, they would never have envisaged  the House going on recess 22 days after their protest, with their representative not having taken the oath of office, despite completing all the processes required. Who would blame some of these constituents, if they say that Speaker Dogara has no respect for them?

These constituents watched as other lawmakers voted on the constitutional amendment, after weeks of not having representation in the Green Chamber. Like I mentioned earlier, Dogara who has managed to sell an image of dignity and candor is doing a great disservice to himself and the 8th House for not seeing to Mato taking the oath of office. I say this because, the situation has led to damaging rumours about the House owing to the fact that, Hembe is the Speaker’s very close friend. It is therefore understandable that there is re-occurring and unreceding talk, that the leadership of the House is holding up for Hembe, in order for him to receive the quarterly allocation paid members, which stands between N27.9m and N33m. To make the situation even more salacious,  Hembe, a lawyer, in the most bewildering manner, made an intrepid move by telling the Supreme Court to reverse its decision, that it ruled against him in error and that he doesn’t have money to refund the wages paid him.

Hembe through a motion on notice filed by his lawyer, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN) on July 18, 2017, in the Supreme Court, sought an order invalidating the judgment and remitting the matter to the Federal High Court, Makurdi for trial. The former lawmaker equally asked the Supreme Court to set aside the consequential orders given against him. It isn’t surprising that, some have traced Hembe taking this risky and fruitless journey to the volte-face by the Speaker. 

Indeed, Mato is being treated shabbily because other lawmakers, the most recent being Ben Nwankwo, who replaced Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka as member representing Orumba North/South Federal Constituency of Anambra State, were promptly sworn-in. Isah Lau who the Supreme Court  declared the rightful  Senator representing Taraba North Senatorial District in place of Garba Umar, on the same day it ruled on Mato, has since been sworn-in.

The dancing politician,, Ademola Adeleke has taken his place in the Red Chamber, while Mato, who has maintained a dignified silence is still left in the limbo. Speaker Dogara shouldn’t shoulder the entire blame in what some have described as a grand conspiracy. Though word has it that former governors, a former Speaker and a few top Benue indigenes have intervened to no result, the question must be asked what the leader of the Benue State as well as the North-Central caucus, Emmanuel Oker-Jev has done to get Mato, the newest member of his caucus sworn-in? Mato like a bird without a nest, perched in Jev’s office for some time and one wonders how he feels seeing her completely helpless. Jev is not only a ranking member, the leader of two Caucuses,  he is the chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business, one of the seven special Committees as listed in the Rule Book of the House.

In advanced democracies, the delay in swearing Mato would be a dent on Jev’s reputation as a leader. Here in Nigeria, the worst that can happen is people murmuring that federal lawmakers get all schmuck in Abuja, feeling very important as members of the leadership of the National Assembly, forgetting they owe their allegiance to  all those who voted them, back in the villages. Female lawmakers in the House, some of whom  carry a lot of weight are also to blame for Mato’s poor treatment.

Female members, who never shy away from fighting for gender equality, with the most recent display from them on affirmative action, held up the House over the rejection of the amendment to give indigeneship to women in their husband’s states. Really, female lawmakers among which you find respectable names such as Nnenna Elendu -Ukeje, Betty Apiafi, Nkiru Onyejeocha, Aisha Dukku and the Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Bello should push for Mato taking the oath of office, immediately the House resumes.                      

….N6.1B  cars: weep not Reps

It was almost like opening old wounds, when news filtered in on Monday, that the leadership of the House was pleading for understanding from members, over its inability to complete the supply of N6.1billion worth of cars to them. Nigerians have never hidden their disgust over the huge sums that have been spent on purchasing new vehicles for members of the National Assembly since 1999.

So, many of them would have loved to continue with the struggle to survive and thrive, without reading of the pledge from the leadership of the House, that with 200 of the Peugeot 508 official cars supplied, before the end of December, all members would have received the keys to their cars. Chairman, House Committee on Media, Abdulrazak Namdas told journalists over the weekend, of the need for his colleagues to be patient as they would all get their cars before the expiration of 2017.

For those, who know that a good number of lawmakers are still in Abuja, because they can’t travel overseas and are avoiding their constituencies because of a cash crunch, we understand why Namdas had to make that call. Lawmakers who were yet to be paid for July as of the time of sending this column and federal civil servants are the same, when it comes to fighting for their welfare. Some of them have even written off the Speaker, complaining that not only have they gone half way in their tenure without getting their cars and some still haven’t taken delivery of office equipment. To understand the explanation from the leadership of the House, maybe Nigerians should know that July wasn’t an easy month for Dogara as he was taken to task on the welfare of members. Nevertheless, as lawmakers complain, they should also remember, they must contribute to making life less gloomy for the 75 percent, who live below poverty line.

 

 


NFIA Bill:  Antidote to collapse of anti-graft war

 

The suspension of Nigeria and a further threat to expel it from Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) in July placed the nation in a fix on the survival or otherwise of the war against corruption which is a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The fact that high profile money laundering and corruption cases are usually with international dimension underscores the importance of the huge set-back the nation will witness in its fight against corruption as a result of its suspension and threat of expulsion from the Egmont Group.

The Egmont Group is an informal network of 154 National Financial Intelligence Units (NFIUs) which provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and other related offences.

The NFIU helps tackle money laundering and monitor financial flows, a task eased by its membership of the Group whose members share intelligence relating to illicit flow and international finance.

The Group at its 24th plenary held in Macao, from July 2-7, 2017, chaired by Mr. Sergio Espinosa, suspended Nigeria for lack of the independence of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Group, however, expressed its hope that the Nigerian authorities will address these concerns to enable it lift the suspension as soon as possible.

Rising to the challenge posed by the suspension and impending expulsion of Nigeria from the Group, the Senate in its usual prompt response manner on July 19 resolved to pass a law creating a substantive and autonomous Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA), to replace the NFIU and make it legally and operationally autonomous.

When created, the Agency will be vested with powers for the employment, reward, training, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently. The resolutions of the Senate were sequel to a motion by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North), entitled: “Dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.”

The Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, while commenting on the suspension noted that, “clearly, this suspension is a setback in our fight against corruption and, as such, we must move swiftly because we cannot afford to be cut off from the Egmont Group. We must move swiftly and ensure that this suspension is lifted and one of the things we need to do is to ensure that we pass this bill as soon as possible and give independence to NFIU.”

Walking its talk, the Senate on July 27 passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) Bill after going through the normal legislative scrutiny.

The bill with 38 sections and 8 parts covers the objectives, establishments of NFIA, management and staff of the Agency, financial provisions, supervision and monitoring by the Agency. Others are; application of counter measures and risk management, legal proceedings against the Agency and miscellaneous provisions. Highlights of the bill include the creation of autonomous Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) in accordance with international best practices.

According to the bill, the proposed Agency will be created through the conversion of the existing National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) that is currently a unit under the control and administration of EFCC.

To insulate the Agency from external influence as required by the Egmont Group, the bill makes provision for its operational independence by making its budgetary allocations to be on first line charge on the consolidated revenue charge of the Federal Government.

The Agency, if created, according to the bill, would for the purpose of institutional location and logistical support, and in line with what is obtained in other jurisdiction be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) though not as a department or unit but for institutional support.

Giving a thump up for the Senate, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN,  who oversee both the NFIU and EFCC expressed satisfaction with the timely response of the Senate through the accelerated passage of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) Bill. The AGF in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Salihu Isa, particularly commended the Senate leadership and urged the House of Representatives to adopt the same spirit of the Senate so that the Bill would be promptly assented to by the President, thus saving the nation from the expulsion threat and the obvious embarrassment it will cause. Also affirming its support for the separation of NFIU from the EFCC, Society for Forensic Accounting and Fraud Prevention (SFAFP), noted that the decision taken by the Senate in passing a bill on NFIU was influenced by global trends.

Chairman, Board of Trustees of SFAFP, who is also the second Vice President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), Professor Benjamin C. Osisioma, said, “in as much as EFCC has tried to give it some levels of autonomy to enable it to operate, but now, unless this particular trend is undertaken, we are going to be deregistered by the relevant authorities.”

With the prompt passage of the NFIA bill, the Senate had not only saved Nigeria from expulsion from Egmont group and the attendants embarrassment but more importantly save the federal government anti corruption war from being defeated.

Mohammed Isa is a Special Assistant to the Senate President on Public Affairs

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